By Ochereome Nnanna
WHEN the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt on 17th February 2017 affirmed Senator Ali Nmodu Sheriff as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party ,PDP, and its Senator Ahmed Makarfi National Caretaker Committee counterpart took its grievance to the Supreme Court, the expectation was that the apex court would expeditiously decide which faction is the legally valid PDP. It is coming to three months and the case has just been adjourned until 25th May 2017 by the Justice Dattijo Mohammed Supreme Court panel hearing the case.
Yes, I know that Supreme Courts all over the world, especially its Nigerian variant, are notorious for their snail pace. Some cases go for years and by the time they are adjudicated some of the principal actors might have died.
Some argue that PDP, which ruled for sixteen unbroken years before losing power to the ruling All Progressives Congress ,APC, brought the woe upon itself and must be allowed to suffer the consequences. It does not work that way in a democracy.
I agree that the once ruling party brought the woe upon itself. If it had not lost the presidential election there would be no question of factionalisation that will require the courts to decide which faction is the real PDP. Whichever faction the President adopts is the party. But they lost the election, and the National Chairman who led the party to defeat, Adamu Muazu, had to resign under great pressure, more so as suspicions pointed to his possible betrayal of the presidential candidate of the party in the 2015 election, President Goodluck Jonathan. For the PDP, Muazu, alias “Game Changer” was indeed (an unsavoury) game changer!
The party needed to bring someone from Muazu’s North East Zone to replace him. Many qualified candidates showed interest. But some influence-peddling governors, especially Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, colluded and brought in Sheriff as the National Chairman much against vehement protests by some major stakeholders of the PDP. Ignoring the protests, Sheriff and his National Working Committee, along with the party’s Governors’ Forum, proceeded to Port Harcourt for the 5th May 2016 National Convention.
Trouble started when political ambitions clashed. Sheriff was seen to be using his position to run for president in 2019. He was already allegedly picking his team and offering some of the Southern Governors his running mate. When this was discovered, the same governors that brought him in organised a coup and the convention sacked Sheriff as the National Chairman. It appointed Senator Makarfi to head a National Caretaker Committee. Both factions went to court to assert their right of control. Eventually, while a Port Harcourt Federal High Court pronounced the Makarfi faction as the authentic leadership, its counterpart in Abuja gave its nod to Sheriff. A court of appeal verdict on February 17th, 2017 affirmed Sheriff as the party’s National Chairman and the Makarfi faction took their case to the highest court in the land for final adjudication.
Some argue that since the party’s busybody governors plunged the party into this crisis, PDP can go and die. That is a childish talk. That somebody crashes his car into an electric pole is no reason not to taken him to the hospital. You cannot say because someone tried to commit suicide you won’t try to rescue him. The Supreme Court has a duty, in the interest of the nation’s democracy, to quickly decide which of the two factions is legally qualified to stand as the PDP. The reason for this is simple.
Apart from the fact that the Supreme Court is constitutionally mandated to settle this kind of dispute, there is a need to allow the main opposition party a fighting chance to vie for power in 2019. It is in the national interest that the ruling APC Federal Government is favoured with a virile opposition, without which it would feel it could get away with anything. The Supreme Court must do everything in its power to give the PDP or whichever major party that may spring from it at least two years to prepare for 2019. That is the only fair and right thing to do. After making its pronouncement, the PDP can go and stew its own juices if it so chooses, but let it never be said that the Supreme Court, by delaying justice, denied the party a fair chance to exercise its legitimate right to vie for power in 2019.
By speedily dispensing justice on this matter, the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, will prove those who look up to him as an independent-minded leader in the temple of justice right. He will free the Judiciary from this lingering insinuation in certain quarters that the ruling APC Federal Government is using it to cripple the opposition and give the government in power a free ride to an undeserved second term.
It is lazy and mischievous to talk about the sixteen years of PDP rule as if there was a particular template used to run the affairs of the nation during that period. Yes, only one party was in power, but three presidents – Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan – held sway at various segments of it. Each administration was dramatically different from the other. In terms of how the opposition parties fared, the eight years of Obasanjo was totally distinct from the eight years of the Yar’ Adua/Jonathan segment. The Obasanjo era’s repressive handling of the opposition comes closer to what we are seeing in this Muhammadu Buhari regime.
Obasanjo sponsored moles to run as national chairmen of the main opposition All Nigerian People’s Party ,ANPP, to prevent it from posing a threat to his ambition and interests. Some of them eventually came back to the PDP after destroying the ANPP. It was the existence of these moles that made Buhari leave and form his Congress for Progressive Change ,CPC. That is exactly what Buhari’s APC is being accused of using Sheriff to do to PDP. Obasanjo enticed ANPP leaders with jobs and many decamped to PDP. Happily enough, Buhari has desisted from doing this, though it has not stopped many hungry former PDP high office holders from decamping to the APC.
The situation was different in the Yar’ Adua and Jonathan periods. Opposition political parties were left alone. In fact, it was even Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Action Congress of Nigeria , ACN, that was nibbling at Jonathan’s PDP with the sponsorship of Aminu Tambuwal as the Speaker of the Hose of Representatives against the zoning formula of the PDP which reserved the seat for the South West. Another case was the “occupy” protests which the opposition used civil society, Labour and other activist groups to ground Lagos and other parts of the country for days following the Federal Government’s attempt to force through the deregulation of the downstream oil sector. It was the freedom that the opposition parties enjoyed under Jonathan-era PDP that made it possible for them to coalesce successfully and win power.
That should have been the new national template for democracy in Nigeria, but it is obvious that under Buhari, Nigeria has slid back to the dark do-or-die political terrain of the Obasanjo era. It is not just the main opposition parties that are shackled the Independent National Electoral Commission , INEC, which enjoyed absolute freedom under Jonathan has already been pocketed by the Buhari political machine.
The Supreme Court should show, through speedy justice that it has no hand in any scheme against the opposition and leave them with the remaining task of facing a supposedly compromised electoral umpire.